Anthem is expected to officially launch on February 22, 2019, for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. It's a connected-world shooter that's similar to Destiny and Warframe, with an emphasis on loot and co-operative play. Squads of up to four "Freelancers," armed with different types of robotic exoskeletons can soar through the skies of a mysterious alien world, with a history shrouded in vague memories and apocryphal artifacts. Gameplay revolves around taking down huge monsters, nefarious factions, and leveling up, with various ways to progress your character and your range of Javelin exosuits.
Anthem is available now as part of an EA Access trial on Xbox One and Origin Access on PC. But with the memory of the buggy, clunky, sub-optimized "demo" period in mind, is Anthem finally ready and polished up? Heck, yes ... for the most part.
Here are some early Anthem impressions on Xbox One X, ahead of the game's full launch next week.
While there's still room for improvement, the current build of Anthem is a night-and-day difference from the game's recent demos, which BioWare reps said were older builds.
The frame-rate issues are vastly reduced across the board, and dynamic resolution scaling doesn't feel as aggressive as it did. As a four-player cooperative game with dozens of enemies on-screen in fairly large combat arenas, the frame rate would tank even on the Xbox One X, dropping far below the game's target 30 frames per second (FPS). The PC version of the game has also seen similar optimizations and should be far more performant on systems meeting the recommended specs.
That said, you can still feel the game struggling during some of the most intense combat situations. The Ranger class "Javelin," for example, can spray a barrage of missiles across a wide area, creating cascading particle effects and spectacular explosions. It looks truly awe-inspiring and like something ripped right out of Hollywood, but you can feel the Xbox One X creaking as they fire off when you're in close proximity in a larger area. Hopefully, further optimizations before the public launch will continue to refine these performance issues.
Beyond the active combat zones, one area of concern remains Fort Tarsis, which is where much of the game's story scenes take place, and where you'll maintain your inventory and armor. It's still pretty sluggish to explore this area, partially due to the walking speed, but it also feels a little taxing on the system.
Either way, Anthem is much improved over its demo builds. Is there room for improvement? Sure, and I expect that we'll get it sooner rather than later.
Update February 28, 2019: It should be noted that there are currently pretty crazy crashing issues on the Xbox One S and X versions of the game, particularly if you're running Xbox Insider builds. Microsoft is working on fixing this at their end, however, which should go live in early March 2019.
Anthem gameplay shows much to discover
Anthem already gave the impression of an aggressively deep action RPG in its demos, but with full access to the game's systems, that has become even more apparent. As you level up your Freelancer, you gain access to additional slots for up to four Javelin archetypes. So far, I've mostly been playing with the Colossus "tank" style Javelin, whose shield lends itself well to front-line defensive combat. The Interceptor Javelin is more akin to a "rogue" with powerful melee attacks; the Storm Javelin effectively casts spells like a mage; and the Ranger is a bit of a jack of all trades, with strong abilities across the board.
Each Javelin has options for deeper playstyle customization, too, with BioWare's combo systems heading across from Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Different players on your team can prime enemies for a combo detonation with a variety of abilities and elemental-style properties. The Colossus, for example, can detonate those primed for combos with a heavy melee ground-pound attack, creating large area-of-effect explosions. It's incredibly satisfying to pull off, even more so when you and your team intentionally set up combos strategically.
Beyond combos and melees, each Javelin comes equipped with an array of additional combat abilities. The Colossus has access to a wrist-mounted rail gun, with armor penetrating properties, which is exceptional at taking down turrets. He also gets a battle cry ability, which functions similarly to a "taunt," forcing enemies to focus on the Colossus so your squishier teammates can avoid damage. Each of these slots can be customized with other abilities, too. I've replaced my explosive mortar cannon ability with a lightning bomb, for example. While it does less damage, it creates stuns and primes for further combos.
The game also features dozens of weaponry types which all come with a unique feel. The Colossus autocannon doesn't feel far removed from a Gatling gun, while standard weapons like shotguns, rifles, and assault weapons are all featured too. More exotic weapons are on the cards for max-level play, but we're not quite there yet.
Could Anthem be your next obsession?
The vast amount of lore to peruse in the game's codex, coupled with tons of weapons to learn, abilities to explore, and areas to absorb, creates the impression of a deep and mysterious universe that's becoming my next RPG obsession. While I still yearn for BioWare's signature single-player branching narrative, which isn't really present in Anthem, the attention to world building is very much unmistakably BioWare and should tide over fans waiting for the next Dragon Age or Mass Effect.
As we head towards a full review, we'll be looking more closely into balance, end-game design, and content spread, but early signs are tantalizingly positive. I'm excited for the possibility that Anthem could indeed be my go-to online game for weeks, maybe even months, to come.
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